Length: >100,000 words
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Only the plot, one demon and the veil are.
Setting: Right after 'Dead Things'
Summary: The night after, all he wants is talk.
The night after, there’s nothing she wants less than talking.
And suddenly they find themselves in another dimension; one that Buffy can’t leave. There’s only one way to get her out. A way with consequences.
Go on living
Each time she says so, he drinks, just like he agreed.
That’s the easy part.
During daylight they can’t go anywhere, but Buffy hopes fiercely that once the sun sets, Spike will have enough of his strength back to be able to walk to her house. Seeing how weak he is, she gives him blood every hour, but she’s still not convinced that it’ll suffice.
He trembles from the effort to climb back on his bed, and she wonders how he’d managed to hurl her across the room earlier. And that was before he’d fed.
He’s getting a little better over the course of the day, even though he doesn’t take as much blood anymore as he did the first time; he always looks as if he’s getting sick after just a few sips, and after casting her an apologetic glance he averts his eyes and shoves the mug away from him. Still, his bones begin not to stand out as prominently as when she first saw him last night. His cheekbones don’t seem sharp enough any longer to cut her hand should she stroke him there.
Which she doesn’t; not anymore.
But even though his eyes aren’t as sunken in anymore after a few feedings, they never lose the haunted look. And seeing that never fails to frighten her to the bone.
It fades a little, sometimes, when she manages to pull him out of insanity long enough to comply with his promise to drink more blood. It’s always the same - at one point he focuses on her, recognition sets in, and then something else briefly flares within the blue: hope. A childlike hope, just as though he believed her to kiss it better, whatever this ‘it’ is. But then it’s quickly replaced by a resigned determination that makes her see that he still doesn’t want this. That he only agreed to get his strength back for her.
She knows that, just as she knew it the first time he drank. She knows she’s once more selfishly taking advantage of his love for her, but right now, she simply doesn’t care. She needs him to stay with her, and she’s much too scared to question her reason behind that need. So she’ll take what she gets and postpone caring about the why.
So yeah, getting him to eat is the easy part.
Much harder is the time in-between. When recognition dwindles away and craziness takes up residence in his mind again.
She snorts; crazy - such an easy word for such a hard thing to grasp, she thinks. A simple word to classify the unknown happening in someone’s mind that nobody can see but themselves. Buffy is sure this is what’s happening here; Spike sees things, people, events that she can’t, and she gets to see only his part in the play they stage.
He plays his role with all his heart. He yells at those he sees, asks them questions and ducks while listening; he threatens and shies away, draws himself up to his full height, every inch the Big Bad, and he cowers down on the bed, hands protectively over his head. He laughs and he cries.
That’s the worst. The moments when he’s actively participating in whatever play he’s on aren’t that long, only brief interruptions of the long, silent ones when he’s zoning out, shutting himself in. When he’s mostly cowering somewhere, on the floor, on his bed, anywhere. He stills completely then, doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t even breathe. Just stares blankly. And then, more than once, he weeps. Silent tears stream over his face, dripping down on his chest. She very much doubts that he’s aware of them.
Watching him like this makes her feel like sitting in the middle of a blizzard, whirling around, but frozen to immobility, ice cold inside and outside. Powerless against the elemental force.
She’s seen him hurt before, of course; lots of times, body and heart. Mostly inflicted by her, also body and heart. But never before she has seen him like this - desperate, defeated, utterly destroyed.
He seems so unlike the Spike she has known and been annoyed by for years. The one who is always fighting, fangs and fists and heart. The one who never gives up, snarky, incessant, self-assured.
And yet, at the same time, what she perceives of him feels more real than ever before.
Almost as if he’d stripped off the layers he lets the world see of him, leaving the true core of his self lying open, fragile and incredibly vulnerable. So much so that sometimes she’s afraid to touch him; she thinks he might crumble to dust underneath her fingers. But she knows he needs her, needs her to be here with him, so she overcomes her fear and shows him in the only way she knows how - by touching him. His arms, his shoulder. But never his face; she thinks she could burn him, somehow.
He doesn’t shrink away from her anymore, but he doesn’t always react to her touch either. Yet she can feel that deep down, in a way she doesn’t understand, he still knows it, knows that she’s here. That somehow he keeps fighting his demons because she’s here.
Once when she lays her hand on his arm she feels him trembling under her fingers. It’s the only time she pulls him in her arms and strokes his hair, murmuring senseless soothing words, more for the sound of it. Just like she would do with a scared child. She feels him pressing against her, his head against her chest, breathing heavily, shaky, a hair’s breadth away from sobs. Her mind flashes back to the day when they got sucked into the portal, when he held her, and how much it helped her to focus on his breathing rhythm. She breathes in and out, in and out, deliberately; and slowly, slowly he calms down. He says her name, just once, a sigh, a prayer. Then he stills again.
After that he doesn’t interact with invisible persons any longer. He appears more like a silent observer of what is going on in his mind. He doesn’t walk and talk anymore; he stays at her side, takes hold of her hand and doesn’t let go anymore. He still weeps from time to time, but other than that, he remains calm.
Each time he drinks, she offers him her hand afterward, and he always takes it; wordlessly, just a look in her eyes as if to assure himself that she wants this. And then clutches it like a lifeline, so fierce sometimes that she’s grateful for her slayer strength.
She cries, too. It frightens her how very much her heart aches for him. Even though she still has no clue as to what this is about, but it must be something horrendous, something deeply disturbing if it can affect him like that.
For a while she tries to figure out what it could be, tries to puzzle the fragments to a picture; the fragments she heard him saying, yelling, crying. She gives up quickly; it doesn’t make any sense she’s able to decipher.
She focuses on him instead, on feeding him, soothing him, holding him.
Sometime during the day she thinks that this is probably the most bizarre day she’s ever had, and that speaks volumes, seeing that she’s been the Slayer for six years now.
And yet, she realizes with a pang, those past hours were the time that felt the most real ever since she came back from heaven.
She really, really doesn’t want to think about what that means.
As soon as darkness falls they leave the crypt.
When he was done downing the last of the blood she still wasn’t sure he would make it to her place. He was still so weak that once again she wondered how long he actually hadn’t fed before he’d saved her, but she knew that she’d have to wait to get an answer to that question.
He’s stronger than she thought, though. She knows it’s partly because he thoroughly hates to be weak and musters every ounce of strength he has left to do his part. He still has to lean on her the whole way to Revello Drive, and more than once his knees buckle and it’s only her arm circled around his waist that prevents him from slumping to the ground.
They don’t talk, not one word, not until they reach her place. Then he suddenly straightens considerably and stops walking.
“You,” he begins, pausing to breathe in and gather energy. She turns and sees him watching her, uncertainty in his eyes. “You want me to stay here?”
She wonders whether he didn’t get it earlier, when she told him her plan to come here, but she‘s sure he was lucid and understood. It hits her then that he just can’t believe it; can’t let himself believe that she would bring him into her home to heal. A wave of shame rolls over her; why should he believe? She had never before behaved like that toward him - concerned, caring. Human. She swallows the lump building in her throat down and turns away, pulling him with her toward the house. “Yes,” she says firmly, “I do.”
“Right then.” She feels him nodding and trudging on beside her.
She hears their voices before she opens the door, and feeling Spike wince at hearing Xander talking, she knows he does, too.
“Hey, guys, I’m back.”
Within seconds they are surrounded by the gang, throwing their ‘thank god you’re okay’ and ‘where have you been?’ and ‘Spike?’ and ‘what happened?’ and ‘what’s he doing here?’ at them in a never ending stream of words, their faces changing from relieved to askant. Buffy feels the strong urge to shout and throw them all out, or at least flee out of this, and she can tell from the rigidness in Spike’s body and his fingers digging into her shoulder that he feels the same, if not worse. She squeezes her eyes shut and fights the anger down; of course they were worried when she had just vanished again. They had every right to be.
She inhales and braces herself for the inevitable confrontation. “I’ll explain everything, I promise. Let me please get Spike upstairs, he needs to rest. I’ll be right back.”
She didn’t really think that she’d get away with that, did she?
“Spike? Upstairs? To rest upstairs? What do you mean, Buff?”
It’s Xander, of course, grabbing her arm to stop her on her way to the stairway. She whips around as sharply as she can with her other arm still wrapped around Spike’s waist, all but batting her friend’s intruding hand away from her. “What do you think I mean, Xander? I mean, Spike needs to rest, and I intend to give him a bed to do so properly. And the only possibility I can think of is upstairs, so I’m bringing him there. Or are you offering a bed in your apartment?” She sees Xander step back, repulsion appearing in his face, and she snorts. “I didn’t think so.” She pulls Spike a little tighter, trying to ignore the beaten expression on the vampire’s face, and proceeds to go upstairs, relieved that for now, no one objects anymore.
Halfway upstairs she hears his voice, quiet, tired. “Buffy…a cot in the basement would do…”
Belatedly she realizes that she didn’t even think about where to put him before Xander got in her face; yet, now that her friend forced her to justify her decision, she doesn’t want to back down. “Shut up, Spike,” she cuts him off, more harshly then intended. When she feels him tensing, she adds a lot gentler, “It’s okay. I want you to be in my room; it’s easier that way, okay?”
He doesn’t answer, but nods once, and with a slight feeling of unease she recognizes the truth of what she just said.
In her room she helps him lower himself down to sit on her bed. His eyes glide closed as soon as he sits, and he looks even paler than before if that is possible. She can see that he’s exhausted, but he hesitates to lie down.
She briefly considers pulling off his boots, but thinks that this time he would probably be embarrassed if she did, so she sits down beside him and gingerly lays her hand on his thigh.
“Spike?” His eyes open and he turns to look at her. “I want you to lie down and rest. Do you want me to help you with something?” She catches his eyes following hers to his shoes and sees him flinch slightly.
“No. I don’t need…I can do this, Slayer.”
She nods. “I’ll be down to fetch you some more blood. And I guess I’ll have some explaining to do. Just holler if you need anything; I’ll be back soon.”
He looks like he wants to say something, but he just sighs after a moment. “Rest, Spike,” she says softly, and then she leaves.
Buffy descends slowly, not at all in the mood to defend herself for bringing Spike here. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her how weird and stupid it is; she knows that all by herself. But one brief thought about the man sitting on her bed, looking so exhausted from the walk over here…She knows she’s doing the right thing. Whatever happened before, he needs her help now. And who is she to deny him that, after he saved her only a few days ago? After he caught her when she broke down in the portal?
She stalls, sneaking into the kitchen to warm him some blood, only to realize that, of course, there is none to warm. How could she have forgotten about having no vampire supplies in her fridge? Stupid. Now she has to ask Willow to buy some at the butcher’s.
“Dawn volunteered to get blood for Spike.” Willows voice startles her; so much for stalling. Then she frowns; the witch’s voice was surprisingly gentle. Almost as if she understood. ”Don’t worry, Tara went with her. Dawn called her to come over when you didn’t show up all day. She came just after you...you know…”
Buffy turns around and watches her best friend, finding that she can’t tell anything from what she sees in her face. Suddenly it registers with her that Willow misinterpreted her frown; she’s supposed to be worried about her little sister, alone out there in the dark, on her behalf; well, on Spike’s behalf actually, but still. A flash of well-known guilt courses through her, tasting like bile on her tongue, because she didn’t even think of being concerned before Willow mentioned it.
The witch begins to fidget with her fingers, stepping to the stove in a rush and grabbing the kettle. “Do you think he’d like to have some tea first?” She’s nervous, and Buffy wonders whether it’s due to the vampire in her bedroom or to hoping for Tara to come back here.
Then again, Buffy doesn’t really care. If she has to face a confrontation about her behavior, she really wants to get this over with as fast as possible.
“Thanks, Will, but I think we should talk first,” she says, raising her chin determinedly. She walks over to the living room, and as soon as she catches sight of the storm in Xander’s face she knows she’ll need all the determination she can muster. She settles on the chair across him. “I guess I owe you an explanation.”
“Oh, you think?” Xander snaps. “Let’s hear it then, why you decided to first vanish for a whole day and, to top it off, let the evil undead reside in your bed now.”
The angry, accusing tone of his voice pushes a button inside her. For a few seconds, all she can think about is how satisfying it would be to hear his bones cracking beneath her fists, and she breathes hard while shoving that image aside. She knows a big part of his anger is fear for her, but also a little for himself - fear to lose her.
“Haven’t you seen him, Xander?” She’s not very successful in keeping her anger out of her voice. “I don’t know what happened to him, but he’s…kinda sick. He didn’t feed for a while, and he’s weak.”
“And that is a problem because? Not to mention why the hell this is your problem! He’s evil, Buffy! You should’ve staked him long ago, and instead you want to attend to him, so that he’s strong enough to, what, one day hurt people you love again? Why do you even care?” He spits the words at her, just like she had expected, and shrugs off Willow’s calming hand.
Buffy stands, because if she didn’t move her legs, she would for sure move her arms with fists at their ends. “You’re right, he’s evil. But you didn’t care about his evilness when you let him babysit Dawn last summer, did you? It didn’t matter to you one bit when it was convenient to forget about it. He helped us against Glory, and he helped you all summer after that, fighting his own kind. You didn’t care then that he’s evil either. Don’t you think that he’s earned a little help from us in return when he needs it? Who’s the monster here, Xander? The one who helps without asking for anything in return or the one who denies any help at all?”
The silence after her outburst is deafening, and the dumbstruck expression on Xander’s face slowly shifts into one of hurt. Buffy breathes in and out, shakily, knowing well that she went too far. And yet, strangely she’s not sorry, because she knows she is right. And it is good to hear herself say these words, because it helps her to see the truth in them, a truth she now knows she notoriously denied.
“Buffy,” Willow interrupts the silence quietly, “you know that’s not what he meant. He’s just, you know, concerned.”
Buffy whirls around to face the witch. “No, he’s not, and yes, he meant it. He hates Spike.”
“Don’t you?” Xander’s voice is surprisingly calm now. Buffy slowly turns and stares at him, wide eyed. Doesn’t she? She knows she did once, and she always thought she never stopped, but is that right? She swallows. Would one be scared to lose someone they hated? So scared that they broke down like she did last night? And when exactly had ‘Spike dying’ turned into ‘losing Spike’ anyway?
Willow spares her the answer. “It’s not about hating or not hating Spike, Xan. Buffy’s right, he’s done a lot of good for us and he deserves our help if he needs it.”
“In her bed? What makes you so sure that this whole weakness thing isn’t an act to get exactly that? It’s what he wanted all along, but maybe Riley was right and it’s what she wants, too and all this is just to convince u…”
A fist eventually shoots out against his temple and stops him midsentence. His head snaps aside, but he’s been in enough fights to be used to the pain. He regains his composure fast, rises to his feet and stares at Buffy, his eyes blazing with fury now. “Fine. It’s your choice, Buffy. Don’t cry on my shoulder when he inevitably does something nasty and hurts your feelings. Again.”
And with that he storms out, slamming the door shut behind him.
The girls stare after him, shell-shocked.
“I hit Xander.” Buffy’s voice rings like thunder in the stunned silence, even though it’s tiny at best, as if just now realizing what she’s done. Willow’s hand is on her arm then, and it feels good; it reassures her in a way she hadn’t felt for a long time. Not from Willow, that is, because it’s the most honest thing she received from her best friend ever since she brought her back. She can see it in her eyes, watching her with a compassion she didn’t expect after hitting Willow’s oldest friend.
“He had it coming, Buffy. I love Xander, and I understand where he’s coming from. And I know that part of the reason for his rant is that he is concerned about you and about your judgment. But that doesn’t give him the right to talk to you the way he did.” She sighs, and then she drags her friend with her to the kitchen. “I need some caffeiny goodness now.”
They silently lean against the sink after Willow made some coffee, sipping at their mugs. After a while the witch asks cautiously, “What happened, Buffy?”
Buffy doesn’t know what to say; she doesn’t want to talk about her confusing feelings toward the vampire in her bed, because talking means acknowledging them and she doesn’t want to have them in the first place. She settles on innocuous information then, involving no emotions at all.
“He saved me, Will. We got sucked into that portal together; he left it when I couldn’t, but he came back to get me out of there. I have no clue how he did it, but he was already sick then. Only I didn’t realize it, because everything happened so fast, and I passed out, and when I came to again, he was already gone.” She doesn’t mention the images she got shoved into her brain somehow; she feels that this is too intimate, as though she somehow would betray him by speaking of them to anyone, even as cruel as they are. She tries to ignore the knot that forms in her stomach at the thought that she could’ve helped Spike so much earlier, if only she had cared, if only she hadn’t been paralyzed by the shock and the anger she’d felt about them.
She gulps down a mouthful of coffee before she goes on. “I found him last night in his crypt, and…Willow, he was so weak. It must have been days, if not weeks, since he last ate. Do you remember that Thanksgiving two years ago? How pale and thin he was then? Compared to last night, he looked like after a vacation at the beach back then. He didn’t want to feed, and after I left him this morning, he got attacked by demons. They tried to kill him, Will. I couldn’t leave him there to die, right? Not after…” And just like that, emotion sneaks in her voice, as much as she intended to leave it out, cracks it, makes it tremble slightly like her insides do for what feels like days.
Willow regards her calmly, and after a moment she shakes her head. “No, I guess you couldn’t. Not after he just saved you, and not after everything he has done in the past months. But Buffy, I have to agree with Xander on that one thing - why here? Why not care for him in his crypt?”
Buffy shrugs. “It’s more comfy here, for both of us. Plus, I couldn’t leave him alone as long as he can’t defend himself, but none of you knew I was there. I had to come here, and so I decided it was best to bring him with.”
“Into your bed?”
Buffy hears the doubt in Willow’s voice, the hint of an accusation. But she can see that her friend tries to not feel the way she does, tries to trust her judgment. She swallows down the anger that is beginning to rise at the witch’s intrusion in her decision, hesitant as it may be. “Look, it’s just easier that way. He…kinda needs me close. I don’t know what happened, but he is calmer when I’m with him.” She feels tears brimming in her eyes as she thinks about the past hours, but for once she succeeds in willing them back. “You haven’t seen him. He’s hurting, Willow. I can’t…I can’t leave him alone like that when I can help him feel better. I just can’t.”
Willow wraps an arm around her shoulder. “And you shouldn’t. It’s what you do, helping those who need it, regardless of what they have done to you. I should know.” A sheepish grin scurries across her face, but she gets serious again quickly and gently sweeps a strand of hair out of her friend’s face. “Do what you think is necessary, and I’m going to help you as much as I can. Okay?”
Buffy looks at her and is more grateful than she would have expected. It feels good, having her best friend’s support, and she wishes things with Xander had been that easy, too.
Before she can say anything else, the back door bursts open and reveals Dawn, dangling two blood bags in front of her.
“Blood delivery service,” she announces, “do I get a tip?”
Almost as though being a vampire herself, Buffy shifts her focus instantly toward the blood, not even noticing the disappointment flickering in Willow’s eyes at Dawn’s unaccompanied appearance. She snatches one of the bags, opens it carefully and pours some of the blood into a mug. After reclosing the bag, she places the mug into the microwave and both bags into the fridge.
“I brought more than usual. Spike looks terrible; I guess he needs a lot to get his strength back. What the hell happened to him, Buffy?”
“Thank you, Dawnie.” The microwave makes its done-‘ping’, and Buffy takes the mug out. She casts her sister an apologetic look. “Will is going to explain it to you, okay?”
A shadow slowly settles on Dawn’s concerned features, and Buffy sighs inwardly. Once again her sister feels neglected, and once again Buffy doesn’t have the time or the strength to care; not right now. She’s relieved when she sees Dawn swallowing down her disappointment for Spike’s sake. “Yeah, of course,” she replies with a glance at the mug in Buffy’s hand. “Go.”
With a grateful smile Buffy turns and leaves.
And is appalled about how glad she is to go back to him.